Is Patrick Peterson a candidate to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers?

If the Steelers still need some help at corner after the draft, perhaps a reunion with Peterson could be in the cards.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

With the 2024 NFL Draft coming into view for teams, general managers around the league are preparing themselves for the second-best chance to fill roster holes before another season arrives in the fall. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, that signals a chance for some help at cornerback.

No team wants to depend too much on a rookie performer as the draft is more about a long-term foundation than short-term gains. Then again, no one can deny that a pro-ready rookie has a clear path to playing time in the Steelers' secondary these days.

On the one hand, the Steelers do have a strong young performer atop the depth chart at cornerback with Joey Porter Jr. Last year's second-round pick started 11 games and finished in the top five for the league's Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. In year two, he's well positioned to take over a lead dog role in a secondary tasked with a heavy workload in the AFC North.

If the Steelers still need some help at corner after the draft, perhaps a reunion with Peterson could be in the cards.

Beyond Porter, the Steelers also have Donte Jackson who has the versatility to slide into a role outside on the boundary or inside in the slot. That gives Steelers general manager Omar Khan some flexibility when making his draft choices this spring to chase the most talented corner he can regardless of where he is most comfortable on the field.

That does not, however, mean that the Steelers will be just fine on the depth chart. These days, teams need a plethora of quality corners and Pittsburgh just watched 2,366 snaps depart in free agency with the loss of Patrick Peterson, Chandon Sullivan, and Levi Wallace. Younger players making up that difference is a good thing, but that might be too much ground to make up.

Last year, the Steelers played Peterson more than any other defender by a country mile (Peterson had 1,1162 snaps or 188 more than the next player, Alex Highsmith, per PFF). Bringing him back for the second deal of his contract would have been a mistake given his high cost and diminishing performance, but it would also be wrong to say he lacked any value at all.

What does make sense is if both sides could find some middle ground. Peterson remains a free agent to this point—and for that matter, so are Sullivan and Wallace—and he has the versatility to play inside and push Jackson to the boundary. In the slot, his physical limitations aren't as apparent and he remains a plus asset for a team that could use the depth.

Of course, all of this depends on Peterson being interested in playing another year in the NFL and in coming back to the Steelers at a serious discount. It's understandable if a bridge is burned here. But if both sides are amenable, it would make sense for the Steelers to consider keeping Peterson's number on hand following the draft in case the board doesn't deliver them multiple prospects who could make their presence felt in 2024.